How To Get Your Book in Local Bookstores

The Art of Spies, a fascinating thriller, was a collaboration between Robert E. O’Connell III and Mark Graham Communications.

A question we frequently hear is, “How do I get my book into bookstores?” 

Seeing their book on a bookstore shelf is the dream of most authors – and authors of ghostwritten books are no exception. (Rest assured, if Mark Graham Communications ghostwrites your book, you are the author – because it’s your story and your book.) 

So how do you get your book on those shelves? If the book is traditionally published (using an agent and a publishing house), bookstores will stock it via distributors. Any copies that don’t sell are returned to the distributor. The disadvantage (for authors) is that distributors take a large cut of the sale price. If you’re traditionally published, you’ll receive an advance for your book, which helps offset this cut. Because there is no advance involved in self-publishing, the distributor model doesn’t work for many self-published authors.

So what’s a self-published author to do?

Many independent bookstores offer consignment programs for self-published authors. In this model, you as the author use print-on-demand to generate as many copies as you and the bookseller agree to stock. You provide copies directly to the bookstore, which generally keeps the copies on its shelves for a set period of time. For any copies that sell, the bookstore pays you an agreed-upon percentage. Copies that don’t sell are returned to you.

You may wonder how booksellers choose which books (and authors) to take on consignment. The key – as in so much in life – is in relationships. During this pandemic year from which we’re emerging, walking into a bookstore was likely impossible. Many independent bookstores were closed to in-person shopping, using pickup and/or mail order models instead. But now, with so much opening up, booksellers are welcoming customers into their stores.

So start there. Become a regular at your local bookstore. Stop in, browse, and buy books. Attend readings and events. Like all relationships, it’s a two-way street: if you want the store to support you, then you need to support them in return.

Introduce yourself. Most booksellers are friendly, knowledgeable, and passionate about their business. Get to know your local booksellers, and let them get to know you. 

Often, bookstores host author readings – and again, as we emerge from the pandemic, more stores will return to holding in-person events. Ask your local bookseller if they would host a reading for you. Before you ask, understand that the bookseller will expect you to bring in much of the audience. You’ll need to sell them on the appeal of your book to a wide audience, and explain how you’ll help promote the event.

What if there are no independent bookstores near you? Check Indie Bound to find your closest stores. You can also get creative about other connections. Is there a bookstore in your hometown (even if you don’t live there anymore)? What about the city where you went to college? Consider, also, any locales featured in your book. Independent booksellers love books with a local connection. Even if you can’t visit every store in-person, reach out to let them know about your book and inquire about their consignment program.

Before your book is even finished, you can start thinking about the independent bookstore angle. Begin locally, build relationships, and take it one bookstore at a time. The moment you see your book on a store’s shelf could be right around the corner!